Unequal Britain

by Daphne Liddle

BRITAIN is now the most unequal country in the western world, with a wealth gap between the richest and the poorest as big as in Nigeria, according to a United Nations report published last week.

Women are on average paid less than men; black and ethnic minority workers are paid less than others while young workers struggle to be paid at all as the practices of compulsory workfare and unpaid internships grow.

Levels of inequality have been growing since the 1980s but there has been an acceleration in the wages gap since the election of the Con-Dem Coalition in 2010.

Detailed statistics in the Human Development Report published last week show the poorest 40 per cent of Britons share a lower proportion of the national wealth — 14.6 per cent — than in any other western country. This is only marginally better than in Russia, the only industrialised nation, east or west, to have a worse record.

The anti-trade union laws passed by the Thatcher and Major governments in the 1980s and early 90s have taken a huge toll on the well-being and living standards of millions of workers in Britain by crippling the ability of our class to stand up for itself.

Before that time strikes were all-out affairs — workers walked out and stayed out for a long as it took. It was hard managing without wages but the fruits of these struggles made up for this in higher wage settlements.

Workers create wealth for their bosses and they are entitled to demand a proper share of it. In fact they are entitled to take control of that wealth and collectively deploy it for the common good of all — which is the basis of socialism.

In the early days of capitalism the bosses organised working on a mass scale, using new technologies as they came along, to increase commodity production and raise living standards in the population generally.


But there was always an irreconcilable conflict of interest between the profits of the boss on one hand and the wages of the workers on the other.

In Britain today there is less commodity production. More are employed in service industries and in the public sector.

But those workers still act as enablers for the bosses to continue making more profits. Bosses have a cheap workforce because public sector workers look after the workers when they are sick, educate their children to become workers of the future, keep their streets clean and rubbish collected, thus preventing epidemics, distribute food and other essentials as truck drivers and shop workers, keep water, electricity, gas and electronic communications flowing and make hotel accommodation available.

These workers are all entitled to a fair share of the general wealth of the country they have helped to create. But they are not getting it. They are being squeezed to the point where they are finding it hard to continue functioning.

And if they fall ill or become unemployed the benefit safety nets are all disappearing fast, leaving nothing but the street and beggary.

Meanwhile the Con-Dem Coalition lures the wealthiest from around the globe to London to benefit from generous tax benefits and speculation in property.

Organising workers in large industrial complexes, where they are conscious of their own numbers and potential power, is much easier than organising workers in service industries where they are isolated and more easily bullied. But it can be done and must be done.

Some of our union leaders have given in to the difficulties and become self-serving opportunists. Others are still trying to raise the fight and the fight for higher wages is the most important battle of all — it is the battle that challenges the whole basis of capitalism

Local authority unions like GMB are fighting for their workers to get at least a living wage — at a level where they do not need taxbased subsidies to survive.

Unite is fighting for London hotels “to be weaned off their addition to low pay”.


The RMT has just secured a landmark victory for workers employed by Churchill Cleaners on the Tyne and Wear Metro system.

And Unite is also fighting hard for a pay rise for staff at the HSBC bank, which has just declared a 10 per cent jump in profits to 14.1 billion US dollars (£9.2 billion), which showed the bank could well afford to be more generous with wages for its rank and file workers.

These struggles are positive but they need to be wider, deeper and more co-ordinated. We need to use some shock tactics against our insatiably greedy bosses and go back to all-out strikes. And our union leaders do need to contemplate a nationwide all-out general strike for higher wages.